Featuring eight of Britain's best jazz vocalists, British composer BB Cooper has chosen to collaborate with vocalist/producer Ian Shaw to create a veritable jukebox of her songs. Shaw, who co-hosted this year's BBC jazz awards while also winning best male vocalist, is much in evidence. He not only produced the session and did all the arrangements, but also sits in on piano, Fender and organ and does vocal honors on the touching string-accompanied ballad "How Late It Is". Newcomer Polly Gibbons, whose debut CD is also being produced by Shaw, displays her powerful voice on the very contemporary rocker "The Way Up" and effortlessly turns "Almost There," which begins as a melancholy string based ode, into an uplifting soliloquy with a Latin beat.
Despite eight separate vocalists across eleven tracks, the session gels as a whole due to the songs. Cooper has a knack for writing melodies that, no matter who the lyricist (and there are nine of them including herself and William Shakespeare), come across as familiar yet fresh. Many of the tunes bring to mind those classic Bachrach/Warwick collaborations with stylish yet easy going melodies. Like Bachrach, Cooper also draws from a myriad of styles that include Latin, cool, swing, classical, soul and the blues to present a vehicle for engaging vocal interpretation. Such is the case on "I Only Want to Be with You Tonight," sung by Jacqui Dankworth with a breathy yet strong vocal that would make her mom, Cleo Laine, proud. Male jazz vocalists seem in short supply these days, and it is refreshing to hear young Symeon Cosburn use his lyrically smooth voice to turn "Taking It Easy Now" from bluesy pine to devil-may-care swinger.
Another young talent is 22-year-old Gwyneth Herbert, who jump starts things with a sassy in your face rendering of the so cool it's hot "Love Has Got a Sting in its Tail" and then brings the proceedings to a starkly sensual close with the French lyric of "Pour Maintenant." The wonderful British cabaret artist and song stylist Barbara Jungr gives a soulfully scorching blues performance on "Mother Didn't Tell Me" before she plays off Hilary Juergen's cello to give a dignified presentation of Shakespeare's "Under the Greenwood Tree."
Completing things are two veterans of Ronnie Scott's famous London club who lend their unique stylings to BB's music: Irish-born Christine Tobin and Aussie chanteuse Trudy Kerr. Tobin interprets Shakespeare's "All the World's a Stage" in a classically inspired performance that features Juergen, Brian Wright's violin and Thad Kelly's bass while Kerr's precise phrasing properly portrays the cheeky swinger on "The Girl Across the Hall." True to its title, Cooper's melodies and varied musical sense provide a fitting forum for the best of British vocal jazz to strut their stuff.
1. Love Has Got A Sting In Its Tail 2. The Girl Across The Hall 3. How Late It Is 4. I Only Want To Be With You Tonight 5. Mother Didn't Tell Me 6. Taking It Easy Now 7. All The World's A Stage 8. The Way Up 9. Under The Greenwood Tree 10. Almost There 11. Pour Maintenant
Symeon Cosburn, Jacqui Dankworth, Polly Gibbons, Gwyneth Herbert, Barb Jungr, Trudy Kerr, Ian Shaw and Christine Tobin (vocals), Ian Shaw (piano, Hammond and Fender), Mark Fletcher (drums), Thad Kelly (bass), Brian Wright (violin), Hilary Juergen (cello), Ollie Usiskin (drums on "Taking It Easy Now")